Sunday, December 29, 2013


I received my copy of the A5-sized OSRIC from Lulu yesterday. Here are some pics of it next to a standard size paperback.

It's a hefty chunk of book, no mistake. I love books that are complete in themselves, and have this smaller format. I still love the idea of having a complete game, and a set of dice, in a smallish box, imminently portable. I guess it's a holdover from my days with my original white box.

As an aside, I saw in a forum (I forget which, I also forget the date of the post) that the A5 is only available in print.
There is a free pdf at RPGNow. One of the great things (for me) about the A5 pdf is the Compiled tables at the back. There are 14 pages of tables, focused exclusively on character concerns. Attribute bonuses, all the class tables, spell lists, etc. The only DM tables are monster experience points tables. It would be a snap to cull these from the pdf and create a booklet of tables a la the Reference Sheets from the white box.

There are many fine reviews of OSRIC floating around. I'll just say this: it is a very complete game. Monsters stretch from page 192 to 320. Man-types get an extensive treatment, which I like seeing. The old letter-based treasure types have been integrated into the monster descriptions, which I think is awesome. There are extensive encounter tables, and one of my favorite things: detailed rules and tables for intelligent swords.

I've only briefly dabbled with OSRIC until now. Then I found a 40% coupon from Lulu and discovered this A5 format at about the same time. I'm really happy with this purchase. As much as I love LBB D&D and got my start with it, the vast bulk of my playing and DMing was done with 1st Edition AD&D, so this little beauty has been a real homecoming for me.

I will close by saying that Lulu did an awesome job. With the coupon the total cost for this was around $11, right to my front door. I ordered it Dec 22, received the email that it had been printed and was being shipped the 23rd, and received it the 28th. Totally awesome. Plus the geek factor of knowing that this particular copy was printed specifically for me. How sweet it that?

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Combat Prowess and Critical Hits

I have this idea. It involves modelling an increasing fighting capacity beyond the improvements on the "to hit" matrix and improving hit points. I am calling it Combat Prowess. It also goes fist-in-glove with a basic critical hit system. In a nutshell, a critical hit is basically scored on a to-hit roll of a natural "20'. In this case the attack does maximum damage. The Combat Prowess options to follow improve on this.

Combat Prowess
Essentially, Combat Prowess is a pool of points that may be spent to modify attacks in various ways. The options available are limited by level, as is the number of times they may be used in a given turn. The options are:

Most of them are pretty self-explanatory. It is worth noting that any points used apply to only one attack in a given round. That is not to say that points may not be spent on more than one attack, however. So, if you spend 1 point for an additional attack, giving you 2 attacks, you may spend one point on each attack for a +1 to-hit on each. In this case, you would be using a total Prowess of 3 points.
Effect C,  -1 enemy "to hit", applies to a single enemy, but it does apply to all attacks from that enemy.
Effect D, +1 to critical range, improves the critical range. +1 improves the critical range to 19-20, etc. A critical hit will be indicated by any natural roll within the range.
Effect E, Additional attack, grants the combatant an additional attack. Additional attacks are not modified by Prowess unless points are allocated specifically for them.
Effect F, +1d6 on a critical hit, allows an additional d6 to be rolled and added to the damage total in the event of a critical hit. Note that Prowess must be allocated for this effect before the attack is rolled, so it is a bit of a gamble, though the bet may be hedged by also allocating Prowess to Effect D.
Effect G, +1 Initiative, is added as a general bonus in group initiatives. That is, all bonuses from all characters are added together, then divided by the number of characters to arrive at an average Initiative bonus. Of course, in an Individual Initiative situation, it is added directly and unmodified.

Prowess is gained differently for each class. The following table illustrates when each class gains points, which effects they are eligible to employ, and how many points may be allocated to a given effect each turn.

* The number of times a letter appears indicates the number of points that may be allocated to that effect in a given turn. For example, a 7th level fighter has 4 Prowess points, and access to effects B, C, and E. In any given turn he may spend 2 points on A, 4 points on B, 2 points on C, 2 points on D, or any combination not exceeding the total of 4 points.

I hope this isn't too confusing. It is one of those things where I know what I mean by all of it, but it isn't that easy to communicate. My goals here are twofold:

  • Higher level fighters should be rightly feared. When a party goes into a brawl with a creature with 6 HD and a d4/d4/2d6 attack routine they are rightly fearful. So, too, should someone be when facing a 6th level fighter.
  • I want players of fighter types to have some tactical options during combat. Even though fighters are my favorite class to play, it can turn to drudgery when a drawn out combat turns into a monotonous succession of nothing but "to hit" and damage rolls. To sit quietly waiting for the DM to shift his attention to you and your "turn" is over in all of three seconds is not very satisfying. It often leaves me feeling a bit powerless and at the mercy of the dice.
Lastly, I want to reiterate that I have no group, so these ideas are untested. I'm not a number-cruncher, I eye-ball these sorts of things and just do what "feels" right to me. As always, I welcome comments and feedback, especially from the mathematically inclined, who may have some insights into how these bonuses feather in with the "to hit" matrices and anticipated damage outputs, in the RAW.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Ruminations on OD&D: 3d6 In Order and Level Limits

Now that the Christmas shipping madness has passed I might be able to get some writing done.

I have played with a LOT of people over the years that ignored these two simple guidelines. Of course, it was mostly AD&D 1st/2nd Edition mash-ups, but the principle still applies. I, myself, disdained them for a large chunk of my gaming life. It is only now that I have returned to my gaming "roots" that I really understand their intent. I will go out on a limb and admit that I think they pose a rather ham-fisted solution to a perceived "problem", but nevertheless, I do understand them, and the necessity for them.

They are demographic controls. Especially post-Greyhawk OD&D, with the introduction of Paladins, Thieves, and multiclassing, opened a flood gate of new classes and options that still continues. OD&D doesn't go to great pains to balance classes against each other. It is mostly achieved with the XP tables. Some classes are inherently more powerful, though, than a simple XP increase can account for. (ahem, Paladin, cough cough). So, the problem becomes "how to limit said class". Places strict attribute requirements and require 3d6 rolled in order. To play a Paladin you would have to roll a 17+ on Charisma, not just a 17+ in a group of 6 rolls. Other new classes have lower absolute requirements, but more of them.

So, if you don't have a particular problem with a party full of Rangers, Druids, and the inevitable guy who insists on playing a chaotic good assassin (one who has seen the darkness in his heart and now kills for a good cause), then you may safely ignore 3d6 in order and do it however you please. Seriously, there is no sarcasm in that. Maybe a plethora of supposedly-rare classes all functioing in a single group is not a concern for your game. All I'm saying is, I see the reasoning in it.

Same for demi-human level limits. This is the one I was really directing the "ham-fisted" remark at. This one is dirt simple. Who wants to play a dwarf when you top out at level 6? Well, somebody who really wants to play a dwarf. Who wants to role play a dwarf. Oddly enough, I've been in that boat where humans are concerned. I've played in games with virtually no restrictions on what I could do with my character.

In the group I played with most often, we rolled 4d6, dropped the lowest and re-rolled 1's. Arranged to taste. no racial level limits, any race could multiclass. If we wanted to be a certain class but didn't have the stats for it, the DM would tell us to put the best number we had on the stat and he would raise it to the minimum.We weren't middle schoolers min-maxing, mind you. We were just very player/character focused. As a group we shared DMing and we all wanted each other to play whatever we wanted. We didn't want to force anyone into a class/race they didn't want just so we could be in line with the rules. Ironically enough, I was typically the only guy playing a straight-up human fighter.

It seemed that with our high-brow way of thinking, we believed that we, as players, had to have maximum freedom to "design" the character we wanted to play or else it wouldn't be fun. We never explored the possibility of finding the fun in a character that we "found" through random generation. I think we missed more than we gained.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

A Proto-idea

This only just came to me over morning coffee. I don't have time to dwell on it this morning, and it is so nascent I may forget it if I don't record it. So, here goes . . .

Start with the four main classes, cleric, fighter, magic-user, thief. Everyone selects one at character generation like always. But instead of limitless levels, or a cap at 10, 14, or whatever, each basic class only goes to 3rd level. At 4th level you essentially choose a new class.

Here's the thing, though: the new class is a natural progression of the old class. So, someone who starts as a fighter would progress to a "fighting" class. Say, a ranger, or a paladin, or barbarian. There could be a lot of these classes. Progress through three levels of this new class, then change again. Subsequent changes become increasingly restrictive, based on the "class path" up to that point. That isn't to say you couldn't go back to a "branch point" and start along a different path, there would just be some sort of penalties for doing so.

I'm not sure if this would work with OD&D. I like the idea of it, though. Hopefully I'll have time to develop it, and see how it shapes up.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Ruminations on OD&D: Hit Points

There is a thread over on OD&D Discussion concerning how hit points are rolled. Essentially, there are four methods (I think):

  • Keep a running, static total, adding the roll of each hit die as it is gained;
  • Reroll all hit dice at each level, keeping the new total if it is higher;
  • Reroll all hit dice at some predetermined point each day, such as after a night's sleep;
  • Reroll all hit dice at the beginning of each combat
I like the "reroll" methods. I've always hated getting hosed on some shit-ass HD rolls. Plus, as a referee, I don't like feeling like it is absolutely vital that I hand out max hp at 1st level. It's a minor annoyance, but sometimes they are the most annoying.

Anyway, this segues into something I have been ruminating on. There are a lot of rationalizations for certain OD&D rules. We all know the ones about hit points representing fatigue, favor of the gods, and luck. While damage represents being taxed to your limits, minor scrapes and bruises, exhaustion, etc.

A big part of OD&D is resource management. Hit points are a key resource to be managed. But, if they represent the things we rationalize them to represent, and damage is per its rationalization, I believe the healing rules are way out of whack. At the healing rates as written a single attack, with a lucky (unlucky?) damage roll could take almost a week to heal. A week to get over being tired and a few minor scrapes and close calls.

I'm sure at this point this may seem like I've kit-bashed two posts. Maybe I have, I don't know. I'm just wondering how to tie in rerolling hit points either each day or each combat would work in conjunction with some "accelerated" healing rules. Like maybe throw the running damage total right out the window, along with the running hit point total, and start fresh each combat/encounter. Would it seriously unbalance things? Would it rob the game of part of its drama, like when your hit points are really low and you're trying to tip-toe out of the dungeon and back to town?

So maybe the "reroll every morning" is the better way. So, how would that work with pre-existing damage? Is it only your max hit points that are affected?

At any rate, I need to rethink healing in light of what damage is supposed to represent. I think getting a certain amount, maybe a percentage of current max, at the end of a combat would work. That could represent the "fatigue loss" being recovered once the character has a chance to collect his breath. One thing's for sure (at least as anything is "for sure" in my head) is that I don't want the book keeping that goes with calling hit point damage fatigue, and keeping track of "wounds" separately. Akrasia's house rules feature that, and while I love the idea on paper, I don't want to deal with it at the table.

I welcome any and all thoughts on this subject. 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Value of Hit Points

This has been rattling about in my head for a week or more, but I never remember to post it. Until now . . .

While I do understand the math of "more hit points" being an advantage, I never truly appreciated it as something that made Fighting-Men better fighters. I recently saw the light whilst watching a marathon of The Unit.

Two men were engaged in a fist-fight. One was younger and clearly more capable. The other was older, and while a seasoned fighter, wasn't the man he used to be. Both men were basically beating the shit out of each other, but the punishment was more telling with the older man. Eventually the younger man gained the upper hand, even though the older man was landing solid blows.

Watching this, and putting it into an OD&D perspective, I was reminded that OD&D combat is about results. The fundamental truth is this: statistically speaking, the better fighter will still be standing at the end of the fight. Period. It is that simple. So, maybe we have similar, or even identical, chances to-hit, but if I have more HD (and therefore hit points, presumably), I should win.

I feel like I should expound on this further, but I can't really see what that would serve right now. So, let's just leave it at this, shall we?

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Delving Deeper Barbarian

This is an idea I've been contemplating for a while. It is based on the Barbarian from White Dwarf #4, along with the skill system suggested by the Thief.

The Barbarian

HD as Fighter
Same XP and Attack Column as Cleric
Any weapons, excepting crossbows
Any armor (Chain imposes a -1 penalty to certain skill rolls, Plate imposes a -2)
  • +2 bonus to the following saving throws: normal elemental effects (such as desert heat or arctic cold), poison, and disease
  • Should a barbarian fail a saving throw vs Fear, he flies into a fit of rage, attacking the cause of the fear with a +2 to-hit and damage. This attack is single-minded, ignoring any other threats. During this rage, the barbarian's AC is increased by 2.
  • Barbarians are canny fighters, and difficult to hit. AC is one better, no matter what armor is worn.
  • A barbarian's opponents are oft-times unprepared for the suddeness and ferocity of his initial attack. If the barbarian has initiative, his first attack is devastating. Consult the following table:

To-hit bonus

  • Barbarians are very cagey and alert to danger. If awake and alert, they are at -1 to be surprised, and at 6th level and above, they are never surprised.
  • Barbarians are consummate outdoorsmen. As such they possess the following skills:

    Survival (Finding water, suitable shelter site/materials, fire making)
    Foraging (Hunting*, edible plants)
    Stalking (Hiding and Moving Silently)*

    *Affected by the armor penalty, if applicable.

    These skills are successful on a d6 roll of 3+. However, this only applies to the barbarian's “home environment”. In other environments, they are successful on rolls of 5+.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Ruminations on OD&D: The Endgame

It isn't hard to do an internet search (I prefer DuckDuckGo, sorry, Google) and find all sorts of forum posts, blog posts, and pontification about the ballyhooed "endgame". They run the gamut between lamenting its loss, to praising various clones for bringing it back to full glory. This post isn't like that. This is just a couple of ideas for integrating the endgame into the ongoing campaign/world. I'm not going to pretend they're original or profound, they're just my take.

First off, "name level" characters who construct strongholds attract followers. Why not base part of a campaign around that? Once the characters establish themselves, say 3rd level or so, they can offer their services to a name-level NPC who has established a stronghold. Perhaps this NPC is just starting out, so to speak. His stronghold is small and he is looking to expand. The PCs can pledge their service, and the NPC can send them on "missions". He can offer them support services, like healing and magic item identification, in exchange for finding whatever loot he desires. Maybe their liege is a cleric who sends them on a mission to recover the shrine idol stolen by bandits. The PCs would return the idol, and perhaps a tithe of other treasures recovered, and keep the rest.

I wouldn't base an entire campaign around this concept, but for a few levels, it could bring a logical structure to things. Plus, if the PCs have been honorable in their oath, when they reach name-level they will have a powerful friend and ally who can help them establish their own domain. Which brings me to . . .

Point the second. Once the PCs reach name-level, I think it would provide a nice break from the high-level game to have followers become PCs every now and then. Have each player fully create a follower, and sometimes have a session or three using the party of followers. If the campaign continued long enough, one day those followers will establish their own strongholds. I know it sounds ambitious, but the setting would develop strongholds, villages and towns, and politics very organically if it could be pulled off.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Rethinking a Rumination

Very recently, I posted about archetypes. I had something of an epiphany yesterday. Most of my thinking and rules tinkering occurs in a vacuum, since I have no group. So, when I pontificate on a topic, such as the idea of many different classes, it is essentially based more on principle than practice. It finally dawned on me that my thinking on classes comes from such a place.

My best friend and gaming buddy used to run his own brew of AD&D 1st, with bits of 2nd thrown in, and a heavy dose of house rules. He also had a lot of classes unique to his world that he had made up. Whenever you would sit down with him to make up a character, his guideline was "Any class is available, from 1st, 2nd, Dragon, whatever. If you have one you made up, run it by me." He wasn't worried about how the classes balanced against each other. If somebody wanted to play a class that was a little weak in actual play, that was their choice.

So, yesterday it hit me: a plethora of choices doesn't automatically restrict player options. Just because there is a ranger class shouldn't mean that other players can't track. Paladins do not have to be the only class that can Lay on Hands. If a players wants to make up a fighter and we can work out some backstory where he has some divine gift of healing, we can do that. If he wants to play a full-on Divine Warrior, he should be able to do so.

We do this for fun. As a player, I would not have found it fun in the least if I had told my friend "I have an idea for a druid for your new campaign" and he said "Well, ok, we'll start with a cleric. I'll try to work something in where you can quest for the shapechange ability, and I'll look over some of the druid spells and work them into the cleric list. How does that sound?" I would have said "It sounds like I'm playing a cleric. Nevermind."

As a corollary to this thought, it hit me that I don't play/referee enough for balance inconsistencies to actually manifest at the table. So, maybe some house rules isn't especially balanced. I can't tie myself up in knots over it, because it's likely I will never know, since I'll never generate a large enough play-experience example to chart it. So, maybe my latest monster design is actually too tough to appear on the 1st level of the dungeon. Well, oops. Maybe you should start running.

Monday, October 21, 2013

More on Magic users

One of the perils of stream-of-conscious writing is that things get left out. I fancy myself some sort of Mozart of the blog, putting out a completed post in a single pass, no editing required. Of course, I know that's total horseshit, but we all have our delusions. Anyway . . .

There are a couple of more setting-centric thoughts about magic users that didn't make it into the recent relevant post.

I envision magic users in my setting as more adventurous than their "standard" brethren. With a more restrictive spell system, with a more limited number of acquisition options, they are forced to venture into the wild places in search of spells. They are also forced to be more pragmatic and seek more mundane solutions to many of their problems. Thus, they are slightly more robust and more capable in a fight.

  • They may use any one-handed weapon
  • They may wear leather armor, but still may not use shields
  • Their hit points are slightly better, adding +2 on the even levels, rather than +1
It seems like there was something else, but now it eludes me. Oh well, there's always another post.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Late to the Party (again)

As usual, I'm late to the party where new games are concerned (actually where everything is concerned, but we all have our crosses to bear). Here I am speaking specifically of Beyond the Wall and Other Adventures.
At this point I can tell you very little about it. For the paltry sum of $7.99 it can be had at Drive Thru RPG. That gets you the core rules plus a bestiary. There are also several free add-ons available, so you can get it all bundled into a single download (I did).

My limited exposure leads me to believe that character generation is a focal point of the designers. They have developed something reminiscent of a lifepath type system. Not as in-depth as a true lifepath system, but it definitely smacks of one. Certain points in character generation also inform the creation of the characters' home village. So, it is created right alongside them, which, if well done, would definitely invest the players in the nascent campaign from inception. Very groovy.

It is definitely based on D&D, with the expected attributes and other descriptive factors, such as class/level, hit points, etc. From my horribly brief perusal it seems to be based on a blend of B/X, with the unified attribute bonuses a la Moldvay, and 3.x, with ascending AC and BtH. It does have the Five Saving Throw scheme, but includes the Three-Fold Save scheme from 3.x as an optional rule.

It also includes some ideas unique to it. There is a section on True Names, which I find endlessly fascinating and underused. I can't comment on it beyond its inclusion, but the fact that is there is a good start. Reviews indicate that the magic/spell system is somewhat different, so that may be fun.

All in all, this should provide, at the very least, some new ideas and an interesting read. I would say that I'll post more about this at a later time, but we all know how those promises play out. So, I won't say it.

Magic users and Magic

I have some thoughts on spellbooks, scrolls, and magic in general. These ideas are a mash-up from various sources, and my own thoughts on the subject. If I'm covering some old ground, please bear with me, I'm just trying to consolidate these ideas.

The driving force behind these ideas is my personal assumptions of how magic works in my campaigns. These house rules are designed to enforce the particular flavor I am attempting to achieve with magic and how it fits into the overall "experience" of being in the campaign setting.

Spellbooks and Scrolls

Only Magic users keep spellbooks. Cleric spells are more akin to divine abilities, rather than the written prayers implied in various iterations of the rules.
The spellbook may only contain a number of spells equal to the number the character may cast, plus one extra spell per level if the character's Intelligence is 15+.
Magic may not be cast directly from the spellbook. Spells must be prepared in order to be cast.
Scrolls may not be copied into spellbooks. Scrolls do not contain the necessary formula for preparing the spell. Scrolls essentially contain a prepared spell, along with a trigger.
The only ways to add spells to a spellbook are through copying from another spellbook and research. Remember, though, that a spellbook may only contain a limited number of spells (see above).


Spells may be "Readied", that is their casting almost complete, waiting only for their power to be loosed. Readied spells take effect earlier in the combat sequence than normal, occurring during the missile fire stage. Otherwise, the player must state the spell being cast during Declaration. Assuming the casting proceeds uninterrupted, such spells take effect on the character's initiative  point.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Ruminations on OD&D: Archetypes

An archetype is defined as "an ideal example of a type". We've all heard D&D classes referred to as archetypes. They are the base foundations of the characters found in the source literature. The idea is that using one of the three (or four, if you go to Greyhawk's thief), you can model pretty much any character from the stories we all know and love. Like all things with D&D, though, this takes imagination. Is Aragorn a fighting-man, straight from the book? What about Conan? Are Gandalf or Elric magic users? Of course not.

I enjoy reading new classes. I used to love it when the latest issue of Dragon featured a new class. I don't like having them in my game so much, though. For me they are like detailed skill systems: they limit player options. In fact, a lot of classes are almost like skill packages added to one of the Big 4. They take one of the archetypes and add special abilities, impose a few restrictions, tweak the XP table, and BAM! New class. The only problem is, when you make a class that automatically enjoys a +2 to saves vs Illusion, it feels like they're the only ones that should have that. Furthermore, at character creation, if a player envisions a character that sees through illusion better than most, it implies that he must be that class. Otherwise, it cheapens that class.

One of the things I really like about DCC is its philosophy about this sort of thing. In a nutshell, if you want your character to be perceptive enough to see through illusions better than most, figure out a way to quest for it. Maybe perform a great deed for the god of acuity and he will grant you such a boon.

I also don't have a problem as referee with working with a player to create and develop the character he envisions. If he wants a guy good and tracking and wilderness survival, I would rather him roll up a fighter and we'll role play the rest. I'll just give him a little bonus on whatever roll I call for in wilderness situations. If you play with a relatively mature group that is out to have a good game, that's no problem at all.

So, the bottom line is that I like additional classes as ideas. They may give me an idea for a different direction to take a standard class. Suggest some abilities that a player may like to add or quest for. Yet, when it is all said and done, all the characters in my game will be firmly based on one of the archetypes.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Ruminations on OD&D: Clerics (Addendum)

I forgot to mention how I would actually handle applying the Moldvay principle to the cleric.

Firstly, I would not require the cleric to keep a spellbook, nor study to regain spells. They would need to spend an appropriate amount of time in meditation/prayer, following proper rest.

Secondly, they may only "know" a number of spells equal to their spells slots available, +1 per spell level, if Wisdom is 15+. For example, a 4th level cleric with a Wisdom of 16 would know three 1st and two 2nd level spells.

Thirdly, they may cast any spells they know, in any combination, up to the number of times listed for their level. This is not adjusted for Wisdom. So, the cleric in the example above could cast two 1st and one 2nd level spells. They do not have to prepare them ahead of time.

Fourthly, the cleric's spell selection should be based on player choice, broadly influenced by deity. Detailed pantheons aren't strictly required. It should be a simple matter for a player to declare that his cleric is devoted to a god of battle and choose spells loosely based on that. Once chosen the selection may only be changed when the cleric gains a level. At that time, the cleric may change one spell per spell level. So, the cleric above could change one 1st and one 2nd level spell upon attaining the 5th level.

At the risk of sounding immodest, I am pretty happy with how this reads. Of course, playtest may reveal problems, but that's a horse of another color.

Ruminations on OD&D: Clerics

I've posted at length about Clerics, several times. The thrust of it is that I don't really like them. I've been thinking about that lately, though, and I think with some tweaks, they may actually work for me.

First off, my objections have nothing to do with the "they aren't in the source literature" argument. My main beef with them, especially in OD&D, is that they are almost on par with fighters and they have spells. Not only do they have spells, they have access to every clerical spell out there, whether they are required to keep spellbooks or not. That makes them slightly above magic users, in that they can wear armor, use most weapons, and have access to their full spell list from 2nd level on. All of this is theirs for a seriously paltry XP table.

Now, I know that "access to their full spell list" may cause some of you to cite the brevity of said spell list. Accordingly, that may not seem such an advantage. I contend that it is a huge advantage due to additional spells. If additional spells, say, cherry-picked from Greyhawk, are introduced, the cleric has access to all of those as soon as they hit the street. Just adding one or two spells per level will increase the value of this advantage tremendously.

I have recently turned to Mr Moldvay's Basic for a possible solution to the Cleric Problem. According to a strict interpretation of those rules, with regard to magic users, a spell book may only contain as many spells as the magic user can cast in a day. This has the interesting side effect of making all magic users Specialists. I like this, very much. I think it can also be applied to clerics, and have several benefits, vis-a-vis my personal issues with the class.

  • It promotes a sense of service to a particular patron without any heavy-handed rules for such
  • It limits their spell abilities, which mitigates their low XP requirements
  • It brings them more in-line with magic users and fighters, power-wise

I think this also feathers in nicely with the notion that clerical spells are divine. Done this way, the power that makes the spells work could be seem as coming from the cleric's zeal. I've always had problems with players of clerics doing things with their spells that their gods may not really approve of. Well, they can still do that using this idea, but at least the power for the spell is coming from within, rather than directly from the god.

Also, and this is a personal campaign-centric thing, I wouldn't allow clerics and paladins in the same campaign. Clerics are paladins, in that they are the righteous hand of their god. They are gifted with tremendous zeal coupled with a clarity of vision and willingness to battle forces opposed to their god. They are not kindly old men leading worship service on holy days, baptizing babies into the faith, and blessing crops every spring. They go into the dark places and meet evil head-on. Unless, of course, they've turned to evil and are hell-bent to bring suffering to all those who oppose them.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Sleepy Hollow

OK, I know I am going out a limb here. I have no desire to be thought of as a fanboy, or, worse yet, a Twilight-o-phile. But, I am really digging this show. I love over-arching themes drawn from Revelations (when they're well done). Being one of God's chosen in a great battle of good and evil is a dream of mine. I also love the character of Ichabod Crane. He's almost a Colonial James Bond. Very educated, proper English upbringing, but cool as the other side of the pillow when evil shit starts happening.

Even though it is set in our time, it makes me jones for Lamentations of the Flame Princess. It is based on eerie and creepy and all-is-not-as-it-seems.

Oh, and as a final bit of irony, Clancy Brown guests in the pilot as a sheriff. You may remember Mr. Brown as the Curgan from Highlander (the original). I really like him and was happy to see he was in the trailers before the series actually started.

SPOILER FOLLOWS (highlight to read)

Well, as fate would have it, he is the Horseman's first victim. That's right, he loses his head.

Sunday, October 13, 2013


That was my 300th post! I didn't even notice until it published. From the bottom of my heart, thanks to all of you who read, and comment. I have said numerous times I was doing this mostly for myself, but to be honest, I'm not sure if I could have kept it going without all of you. Thank you all so much for the support.

Combat Bonuses in OD&D

This is pretty off-the-cuff, so please be kind if you comment.

I was rummaging around in the Howling Tower, Steve Winter's blog. I forget the exact post, but he made the comment that characters from classic fantasy fiction are not defined by their magic weapons. That threw my mind into a spin. I like magic items, in general. A gold piece is a gold piece, and that's great, but nothing screams treasure like magic items. He has a point, though, and it lands squarely on an amorphous unease I've had for some time. I want characters to be competent, even dangerous, intrinsically, not because of a glowing sword. The glowing sword can certainly make them more dangerous. Imagine two thieves plotting to steal something from a fighter with a magic sword. If the sword defines the character, the conversation could go something like this:
"We need to separate him from that damnable sword of his. Should be pretty easy pickins if we can do that."
If the sword merely augments the fighter, the thieves' plotting could go something like this:
"We need to catch him away from that shiny sword of his."
"Are you mad? He killed five men with his bare hands just to get the sword."
I prefer a game where the second conversation is the one that happens. Seems easy enough, right? Just keep a tight reign on magic bonuses. Bam! Done.

In my mind it's not that easy. It never is. See, I do want magic weapons to mean something. I want the thieves above to shit themselves at the thought of facing the fighter with his sword. I also want them to know that if they face him without it they are in deep trouble, too. Balance that against the fact that said fighter can't be a total badass and tote a sword that makes him a total badass.

And that's the tricky part. Make the weapon something to be feared, but not something that will throw things completely out of whack when wielded by a character who is rightfully feared. Keeping weapon bonuses low doesn't do it for me. A sword that hits 5% more often isn't exactly fearsome, even though we are assured that a +1 bonus in OD&D is meaningful.  I have an idea, based in principle on Chainmail.

The notion that a +1 bonus is significant comes from Chainmail, where it is indeed significant. However, Chainmail is a considerably different animal than OD&D. A +1 in Chainmail would be applied in one of two ways, depending on the type of combat being prosecuted. In the 20:1 Troop system, magic weapons add an extra die per "+" (in a nutshell, you roll a certain number of d6, scoring a hit on 5-6, or 6, for the most part, and in that system a hit = kill). That's pretty potent, since it gives the opportunity to kill an additional opponent. In the Man-to-Man and Fantasy Combat it adds its "+" to the roll, which is 2d6. Modifying a 2d6 roll by even +1 is much more significant than modifying a d20 roll by +1, especially when fighting creatures that require a 10 or more on 2d6 to hit.

So, here's my thinking: if a character is a big enough badass to deal with "common" threats pretty reliably, then a badass magic weapon is just overkill. The badass fighter could deal with those thieves just fine without the sword. BUT. . . such a weapon in such capable hands allows said fighter to take on foes beyond the ken of normal men.

I am looking at Chainmail for the answer to this conundrum. I have a couple of ideas, but they require looking at the to-hit roll in a different way. In Chainmail, in the Troop and Man-to-Man systems, a hit is synonymous with a kill. When the term was ported to D&D it came to be (mis)understood as a singular "attack". The d20 roll "to-hit" does not represent an attack. It represents the chance that a combatant wounds his opponent. It is necessary to embrace this idea to process my proposals for magic weapons.  I have two proposals:

#1) Any character armed with a magic weapon of any sort rolls an additional number of d20's equal to the "+" of the weapon. The rolls themselves are not modified at all. Each roll that indicates a hit will do d6 damage. 
#2) Only a single attack roll is made, with a number of additional d6 for damage equal to the "+" of the weapon.
Obviously, the second option is more powerful, perhaps too much. I prefer the first option, myself.

This allows an interesting option for magic armor, as well. Using this, I would rule that magic armor negates one damage die per "+" of the armor. If an opponent has only one die of damage, the armor subtracts its "+" from the roll. So, if a character with no magic weapon hits an opponent wearing Plate +2, he rolls his normal d6 for damage and subtracts -2 from the roll. If he had a +1 sword, he would roll a d6 and subtract -1.

I would also rule that characters with a 15+ STR is granted a +1 to the damage roll, but this bonus will not negate any penalty due to magic armor.

So, there it is. Perhaps a bit disjointed, perhaps even confusing. I am a stream-of-consciousness kind of guy.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Ruminations on OD&D: Armor

The success or failure of a to-hit roll in OD&D depends on the target's Armor Class (AC). In its earliest form, AC was based entirely on the actual armor worn by a character, or the relative protective value of a creature's hide. Things such as Dexterity bonuses or magic armor modified the attacker's roll, not the defender's AC. Mathematically there may be no difference, if things stopped right there. However, doing it this way does open some possibilities.

The chief option this allows is a modifier based on weapon v. armor. I'll grant you, this is not a popular option. It is seen as "too fiddly" or just too much bother by most. I happen to like it. I don't really see where it is a bother. It is a fairly simple matter to jot down to-hit numbers on your character sheet. Most old-school character sheets include a small matrix for just such a thing. It is a small matter to fill that in for your weapons, with the modifiers already factored in.

The main reason I like this option is it introduces a mechanical reason to influence weapon selection. With the OD&D paradigm of all weapons doing d6 damage, I like the idea of having something that prevents weapons from being generic. I don't want to turn this into more of a weapons discussion, though. That's going to be another topic.

In my gaming travels, I have run across several ways to handle armor. The other main method is to have armor absorb/block/soak damage (terms vary). In these systems the to-hit number remains relatively fixed, based on attacker's skill, sometimes modified or cross-referenced with defender's skill. If the attacker is successful, he rolls damage. The defender subtracts his armor's rating, and applies any remaining damage to the character. If the damage roll is less than the armor's rating, the character takes no damage.

I played in a GURPS campaign once. GURPS armor functions in this damage-reduction model. There were so many times in every combat encounter where rounds would be fought with no effective damage being dealt. We had our share of successful to-hit rolls, but many times there wasn't enough damage to penetrate the armor. It finally dawned on me that this is what "misses" are in D&D (any flavor): they aren't necessarily misses at all. They are simply failures to cause damage. Sadly, even with that epiphany (which I had almost 20 years ago) I doggedly continued to search for a system that featured damage reducing armor because I was still convinced it should be the True Way.

I am pleased to say I abandoned that foolish quest and I am now quite satisfied with OD&D's take on armor and armor classes.

Ruminations on OD&D: Nostalgia or Just a Good System?

When my mind returns to OD&D, I get caught up in this sort of duality conundrum. On the one hand, I am constantly drawn to OD&D out of nostalgia. It was my first RPG. I actually started gaming with Avalon Hill wargames (Tobruk and Third Reich being the first), but that's another story. I still remember buying my white box, mail ordering Eldritch Wizardry and a set of dice (the soft ones that saw the d20 turn into a ball after some steady use). Hell, when I started there were no d10s, the d20 was numbered from 0-9 twice. All the d20s were like that, there weren't any numbered 1-20 back then.

I have a lot of extremely fond memories of those times. There's a part of me that turns to OD&D in an effort to recapture the sense of those games. That part of me doesn't want to change the game, at least no more than we did back then. So, I don't want a lot of house rules or "outside influences", beyond what we may have been using in 1976-78. This included Greyhawk, pretty much whole clothe, but very little from Blackmoor or Eldritch Wizardry. We had zero access to Strategic Review, Dragon, or Judge's Guild materials.

Then there's the other reason I turn to OD&D. It is simply a damn good system. It does what it intends to extremely well.

(An aside: It never ceases to amaze me when people compare OD&D to other games on the basis that OD&D is all about killing and looting and doesn't promote role playing at all. "There's nothing in the rules to support role playing and the only way to improve your character is by killing things" is the common refrain. Then they will point to systems, usually skill-based, as champions of "role playing not roll playing". Funny thing is, these systems all rely on die rolls to adjudicate skill use, and the skill lists are usually quite detailed, as are the rules governing their use. OD&D has no skill lists, relying instead on player skill and role playing. Players are encouraged to role play their characters' actions, rather than rely on "skill" rolls. Bizarre.)

I'm honestly not sure how much of OD&D was intentional design and how much was serendipity. We all know it was born out of a miniatures wargame. There are references to Chainmail throughout the LBBs, and it is in fact required for complete descriptions of some of the monsters. So, essentially, the LBBs were house rules bolted on to Chainmail to turn a wargame into a roleplaying game. By all rights it should have been an odd fit, to say the least. Especially with so many artifacts from a 20:1 scale miniatures game making  their way into a game about 1:1 conflict between "characters" and creatures. Yet, somehow it works, and it does so in an almost transparent-to-the-user fashion in many cases.

Take for example the simple, yet profound, relationship between armor, HD, and weapon damage. In Chainmail a  standard figure was killed by a single hit. In order to score that hit a target number, based on the target's armor and the attacker's weapon, must be met. (In a sense, armor reduces damage, as a hit roll that wasn't sufficient to kill the figure is ignored. Only enough damage to kill is considered.) In OD&D this was translated as a standard figure having d6 HD and all weapons doing d6 damage. Thus, we set the standard that a normal man may be killed in a single attack. But, I digress.

My main point here is that for all the nostalgia that may fuel the OSR engine, OD&D is a fine, fun game on its own merits. It may seem antiquated to some, but I am very comfortable with its practices and forms. I have my LBB pdfs printed and spiral bound into a single volume and spiral bound. In that minimal 114(ish) page tome is all the gaming I need.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

A New Critical Hit Idea

I came up with this idea yesterday. I would really like some feedback, so if you would be so kind as to comment, I will greatly appreciate it.

I don't really like have a to-hit roll of 20 represent a critical hit. It essentially means everyone crits at the same rate. I don't like "confirming" crits, either. I've discussed this in an older post. I think the damage die should be the indicator, but I am against exploding damage dice.

OD&D is about modelling results. With that in mind, I had this idea. If a player rolls max damage, he gets a +1 to-hit on his next attack against that opponent. This represents such a severe flurry of blows that it affords a continuing advantage. Really it represents the potential to do it bring the fight to a swifter conclusion, thus modelling the result of critical success in combat. I also like it because it can only occur as the result of a successful hit, which means that characters and creatures with better to-hit numbers will achieve it more often. It is also a small bonus which is well in-line with the OD&D philosophy of such things.

Please let me know what you think.

Ruminations on OD&D: Hit Points

In the pursuit of my job I have a lot of time to think about gaming (and anything else that crosses my mind). However, I have no time whatsoever to write, design, or develop anything I think about. One of the things I've been thinking about lately is OD&D, but I've been thinking about it on a much more philosophical level. I'm a huge fan of Philotomy's OD&D Musings and read and reread them frequently. This will (hopefully) be a series of posts of my personal observations, with the title inspired by those musings.

First up: Hit Points

I've blathered about hit points before. Anyone that makes a conscious choice to have D&D in their life has. I'm not going to rehash those previous thoughts; they are easy enough to find. No, this is about the drama inherent in hit points.

Over the course of my gaming travels and experimentations I have run across the notion that hit points aren't dramatic. According to many systems, designers, and players, it isn't realistic nor dramatic to know with absolute certainty how much abuse you can take before being killed. A lot of games trumpet their "fun" and "realism" by pointing out that death is always possible and any blow may kill any character at any time. Each and every creature in the game, from stableboy to the Queen's Champion, from kobold to ancient red dragon, could be killed with a single stroke of a blade.

I have been lured by this temptation myself. I have bought into the idea that it is a bit meta-gamey and jarring to base one's willingness to risk combat on knowing how much more damage on'e character can sustain. It occurred to me yesterday, though, that while ripe with dramatic potential, systems which support this notion of ever-possible character death are better in theory than in fact.

Think of it from the player's perspective. How much fun is it to have a favorite character killed by random chance? Sure, it makes combat more tense, and perhaps causes the player to actually consider the risk/reward every single combat rather than only when hit points are low. Yet, for that threat of imminent death to be real, and not just some sort of boogeyman, it has to actually happen from time to time. I was playing in a sort of mini-campaign with two friends. My friend Rick was DM and he had developed some critical hit charts that included the possibility of instant death. The other player was my friend Todd. He was playing a dwarf. We were about 4th or 5th level and quite attached to our characters. We had a random encounter with a small number of goblins, definitely not enough to pose a real threat. One of them scored a critical hit on Todd's dwarf. Rick rolled on his new chart and ended up with the goblin getting in a one-in-a-million hit that pierced the dwarf's heart, killing him instantly. Todd was devastated.

Granted, with the charts being experimental, Rick could have invoked fiat and ignored such a horrific result, but that's not the point. The point is: the supposed fun brought on by the "dramatic tension" of the dangerous critical hits did not outweigh the let-down as a result of watching a favorite character killed by pure chance. So, ultimately, from the player perspective, I just don't see this type of thing fun. Whether it is through a bolted-on critical hit table, or baked into the health/damage system, it is not an even trade. Furthermore, since we actually play these games for fun, I wouldn't ever, as a referee, allow a player's character to be killed in such a manner. So, the threat of imminent death becomes hollow and meaningless.

From the referee's perspective, and the player's as well, to a degree, this type of system saps the fun from battles which end prematurely in the characters' favor. Who wants to spend months of real time and many sessions to get to the Ultimate Threat only to have him killed by an exploding damage die on the first hit? Again, the point of the exercise is fun, and it is hard to do that when a planned three-hour session ends in 15 minutes because of a lucky roll.

Upon reflection, I have to say that I see a lot of drama in D&D's hit point system. It's all in how it is role played. Hit points, especially in the relatively low amounts as generated in OD&D, really model the ebb and flow of a battle. I have been in countless games where I was sweating bullets because my hit points were at a point where one more really good hit could kill my character and I knew I had my opponent in bad shape (or at least I thought I knew). I was praying to the dice gods that I hit him before he hit me. For me, that is a much more satisfying sort of drama than that offered by random chance death.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Bag o' Bones

The Bag o' Bones is an enchanted canvas or burlap bag, securely tied. It is roughly "meduim" size, not small but not so large it would draw undue attention if tied to a belt. It rattle slightly if shaken, but is otherwise unremarkable.

The Bag o' Bones may be thrown at a target (range and modifiers as a Dagger). Upon striking the ground, presumably at the target's feet, its tie will fly loose and a pile of bones will spill out. The bones will form into a fully functional skeleton on the round the bag is thrown. The skeleton will be armed with a bone club.

The target must make a saving throw vs Fear. If failed, the target is frozen in fear, rooted to the spot, until attacked. Whether the attack is successful or not, the target will then flee. The fleeing target may make another saving throw each round, to shake off the fear. Obviously, if the saving throw is successful, the target acts normally.

This is a one-use item. The skeleton is in no fashion under the control of the owner of the bag. It functions as a normal skeleton. It will continue attacking should its first target be slain, moving on to a randomly determined target, including possibly the thrower or his allies. Note that subsequent targets are not subject to the Fear effect.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Free Goodness from Lamentations of the Flame Princess

There are a couple of new things available for LotFP. The first is a pay-what-you-want pdf of the Free RPG Day adventure, Better Than Any Man. I haven't printed/read it yet. It looks completely awesome. There isn't a FLGS near me, so I'm not familiar with actual Free RPG Day offerings. I rarely even try to get in on them post-Day. My general feeling is that they are mostly introductory in nature, intended for either completely new players, or trying to get established players to try a certain rules set. Maybe I'm wrong about that and doing myself a disservice. I'm certainly glad I stumbled across this one. It is 180 pages(!) with a slew of advanced features in the pdf, including color maps that are printer-friendly. My impression of it is that is almost a mini-campaign, an impression which may, or may not, bear out. It is set against real-world history and seems to be intended to showcase LotFP's particular gaming proclivities.

The second link is to a new, no-art version of the Rules & Magic book. I'm not sure what has changed, content-wise, and of course I can't comment on the art in the for-pay version, but overall I think it looks much better. There is a new font that doesn't do that weird curlicue thing with the "s".

Better Than Any Man

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Delving Deeper Reliquary

Delving Deeper Reliquary, the all-in-one version of Delving Deeper is available for download. It is in plain-text only. I dig the name, btw.

Thoughts on the Rules Cyclopedia

First a little background. Sometime or another in the late '80's I discovered Frank Mentzer's BECMI. I love collecting games and reading them, even if there is little chance I'll ever play a given title. The Larry Elmore covers, especially on the BEC boxes, were awesome to me (they still are).

The group I played with was very anachronistic. You couldn't turn a page without finding something that had been house ruled. This was done on a foundation of 1E AD&D, and later a mash-up of 1E and 2E. Pretty much anything went when it came to characters. No level limits for demi-humans, humans could multi-class, anybody could use weapon specialization, etc, etc, etc.

At some point in time, I decided I wanted a simpler game. Originally, I wanted to play AD&D as written and just see how it would work if played as intended. I didn't get any traction with that idea. So, since my exploration into a simpler method had officially become my personal mental exercise, I figured I may as well go all the way. Immortals didn't really interest me, but I loved BECM. I did not hesitate when the Cyclopedia came out. The idea of such a complete version of D&D for (then) $25 was attractive enough. The fact that it was the collected BECM was the cherry on top.

Late in 1992 I gave my copy of the Cyclopedia to the son of a friend.

 I don't remember exactly when I learned of Dark Dungeons. I received a print copy via Lulu about a year and a half ago. I haven't read it as thoroughly as 18 months allows, but I do like what I've seen. There is an extensive list of changes between the RC and DD, but they are almost exclusively limited to clarity issues.

Anyway, this isn't intended to be a review of either title, or a compare/contrast piece. It is just some thought on some things I have read on the web concerning them. Pretty much anything that applies to the RC applies to DD by extension, so it seemed logical to discuss them together.

One of the biggest knocks I see against the RC/DD is that it is too complete. The perception is out there that it includes rules for everything, thus removing the game from the DM and putting it in the rule book, a la 3.x or Pathfinder. After spending some time with my RC pdf, and DD, I don't see that. Yes, there are more rules for things that commonly come up in play. I think, though, that the extra heft in the books comes from subsystems that are very specific. For example, pages 169-194 of DD are chapters covering mass battles and immortals, topics that will be a long time coming in campaigns beginning at 1st level.

There is also a lot made about the rules covering character levels up to 36th. Many players prefer a shallower power curve. I myself have discussed that very thought. Upon further reflection, I can definitely see where a longer power curve can bring something to the game. With a 36-level spread, I find it much less troubling to assign levels to special, yet non-pivotal, NPCs. A captain of the guard could be 6th level, which allows him to be accurately represented relative to those under his command. With a 14-level curve, the same captain would probably be no more than 4th level, probably 3rd. That doesn't leave much room to represent the lieutenants and sergeants in his unit.

So, that just a couple of thoughts on these two rules sets.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Spellbooks and Research in B/X

Ode to Black Dougal has a post about how spellbooks are handled in B/X. In a nutshell, a magic-user or elf may only have a number of spells in their spellbook equal to the number spells they may cast. Thus, a 3rd level magic-user may only have three spells in his spellbook, two 1st level and one 2nd. Further, the only way to add new spells is by researching them yourself and being taught by another caster. No copying from looted spellbooks or copying scrolls.

Being relatively new to the B/X experience, I found this rather jarring. In fact, I mostly glossed over it as a poorly worded passage when I read it. I didn't give it too much thought until I read the blog post. I reread it then and realized that it was worded exactly as intended. In my mind, I immediately houseruled it. I couldn't stop thinking about it, though, and the more I thought about it, the more I liked it. I like what it says about magic-users. I would still houserule two aspects, though.

  1. Allow magic-users and elves to modify their spellbook limit by their INT modifier. Allow a total number of additional spells equal to the INT modifier, not to exceed caster level. So, a 1st level caster with an INT of 16 could have one additional 1st level spell. When he reached 2nd level, he could add another 1st level spell, or have two 2nd level spells. These additional spell must still be acquired, they are not freely granted. This does not grant any additional casting ability, either.
  2. Looted spellbooks may be used to aid spell research. Per X51, spell research requires 1000 gp and 2 weeks per spell level. It further specifies that this time must be "spent out of campaign". If a looted spellbook is available to reference, this time may be concurrent with adventuring. The other research rules still apply. The spell-caster player must notify the referee when the character is performing his research, such as while other characters are seeking rumors, negotiating with potential hirelings, etc.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

A B/X Blog

This isn't a new blog, in fact most of you probably know about it. Just in case you didn't, though, check it out. Just be sure and set aside a block of time, there's a lot there and it is difficult to stop once you start.

Ode to Black Dougal

Friday, August 9, 2013

A Couple of Thoughts on Magic-Users

Just a couple of random things that fit together better than into their own posts.

When it comes to agonizing over the concept of "which spell to memorize", I tend to forget one simple concept: the magic-user has his spell book with him. When slots are limited, memorize the spell(s) that are most likely to be needed in the thick of things. If a situation arises that requires a more utilitarian spell, such as Knock, or Comprehend Languages, the magic-user can simply "swap out" by studying his spell book. Of course, this does absolutely no good if he has used his available slot(s). Likewise, once the utility spell is memorized and cast, that slot is used for the day. So, the dilemma of when to cast that precious spell remains. . .

I haven't read any of Jack Vance's work. I have certain impressions from quotes and excerpts, though. I'm not sure how "accurate" these impressions are, and I'm not claiming any of this is particularly original or mine, but they are just my thoughts based on the impressions:

 Each spell is almost like some alien life form that the magic-user must literally force into his mind. When someone sees a spell without the benefit of Read Magic it can look like anything from mad gibberish, to poetry, to doodles, to a blank page. When read with the benefit of Read Magic, however, it is seen as literally writhing on the page, pulsing and squirming with arcane intent. It is entirely alien to the mind of the caster and his brain must be forced to contain it, forced by sheer effort of will. That is what memorizing a spell is all about.

It isn't easy or pleasant to watch, either. The effects vary with caster level and spell level. The more advanced the caster, and more basic the spell, the less dramatic the process. A 10th level magic-user studying Sleep is hardly noticed. The closer the caster gets to the limit of his abilities, the more dramatic. The process can be downright frightening to behold. "Study" could appear as any of the following:

  • Weeping blood as their eyes are forced to take in the eldritch horror;
  • Sweating profusely, literally pouring from the magic-user;
  • Laughing maniacally and/or speaking gibberish;
  • Hair falling out;
  • Eyes blackening, as if charred;
  • Hair standing on end;
  • Grasping his spell book for dear life, eyes opened unnaturally wide, bulging and bloodshot, hair flying back as if a hurricane was issuing from the spell book.
That is just a few ideas off the top of my head as I write this. None of this should have a direct mechanical effect, it is more for dressing. Some of these could have in-play consequences, but they shouldn't become the center point of a session. 

All of these realizations have shown me that Vancian magic isn't nearly as limiting or vanilla as I had thought.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Damage by Class

This will be another pre-work rush job.

I am on a less-is-more kick again. My B/X reading led me back to Delving Deeper and I have been having some minimalist house rule ideas (a seeming oxymoron).

Here's the skinny: attacks come in one of three "modes"

  • Weapon/Shield -1 AC
  • Two Weapons  Roll 2 damage dice, keep the one you want
  • Two-handed/Heavy Weapon  +1 to-hit
Furthermore, Fighters use a d6+1 for damage, regardless of weapon. Clerics and thieves use a d6, and magic-users use a d6-1. Anyone can use any weapon, but only Fighters can employ magic weapons to their fullest.

That's it for now. More to follow.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Rambling On About House Rules

I've recently began a complete reading of Moldvay/Cook/Marsh B/X. I'm not sure if it was DCC's relationship to that set of rules, or maybe just the fact that I never played or refereed them. It is quite difficult to do any sort of OSR-related reading and not run headlong into a B/X lovefest. So, I am working with just that, thinking about how a dungeon, wilderness, and/or entire campaign would have been in 1981, with those rules. I may post about that this weekend, as well, since I have been so remiss this past month.

Anyway, an inevitable aspect of any sort of webispheric study of original rules is that subject of house rules. There is a school of thought that if one is going to actually game with original rules, whether LBB, B/X, BECMI, or even Traveller, the rules should be used as-written. Even if only briefly, simply for the sake of the experience. I've seen a lot of words spent on the notion that if a person changes some certain aspect of B/X then they aren't playing B/X anymore. The logic then goes "so what's the point of calling yourself playing B/X in the first place? Use the rules as written, as intended."

This really started me thinking about the very nature of house rules. Here is my conclusion: I submit to you that ALL forms/version/editions of OD&D/AD&D/D&D, including the retroclones (free and pay) are nothing more than house rules. The early versions admitted such outright by calling themselves guidelines. It was only later that they began calling themselves "rules". Here is how I arrived at this conclusion:

The LBBs sprang from Chainmail. That, as we know, was a set of rules for medieval miniature battles. It was based on real-world, historical, actions. It is quite easy to determine, even if anecdotally, how far a medieval soldier could expect to travel in a given amount of time. Their morale was also simply a matter of assigning an algorithm to historical evidence. Things were abstracted, but the abstractions were based on actual, historical, evidence.

Then came the desire to include fantastic elements in the Chainmail games. Mr. Gygax and Arneson had to decide how a fireball worked, how a unit of orcs or dwarves compared to a unit of human soldiers. There is nothing historical to go by, so they tinkered until they found what worked best for them. Isn't that the very essence of a house rule? So, by my reckoning, since every single edition or version is built on the LBBs, at least philosophically, they are all house rules.

This isn't particularly important, since most of us play our games our way, and aren't subject to internet-based fanatical puritanism. I just found it an interesting thought to ponder on, and wanted to share it.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Combat Prowess for Fighters

This will be quick, before I head out to work. It is intended for any sort of OD&D fighter, whether it is LBB, B/X, or any of the retroclones.

Fighter receive points, which I am calling Combat Prowess. They gain one point at each odd-numbered level, including 1st. Each round they may allocate these points to any of the following, in any combination:

  • +1 to-hit, to a single attack
  • +1 damage, to a single attack
  • +1 initiative
  • -1 AC
That's it. If you've read this blog for any length of time, you've surely noted my near manic desire to keep the "lowly" fighter relevant into higher levels. I still like some of my earlier ideas, while my fondness for others has waned. I like this approach because it is simple, it doesn't give away the farm, and it allows (forces?) the player to make tactical decisions each round.

As an aside, I would suggest having the player work out a "standard" use of his CP points, to help keep things moving during quick combat encounters.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

DCC Tables

A lot has been made about all the tables in DCC. The opinions vary from bleakly negative to wildly positive. I figured I would toss my 2 coppers into the pot.

On first blush, I thought they looked like great fun. The "over the top" aspect looked like it could bring some laughs, not to mention some moments of genuine relief when an insanely high roll turns a disaster into a victory. Of course, it can go the other way, too, but that's the stuff of high drama.

Then, I started thinking about it. There is a table for almost everything. That can lead to a lot of table look-ups, which has the potential to slow a game down. Adding to that is the fact that most of the high drama moments I mentioned could having the energy sapped from them by a drawn-out table sequence (Spell Duels, I'm looking at you).

Now, I'm sure I've left you with the impression that I'm no longer a fan of all the tables. For a brief moment that was true. I had started buying in to all the nay-sayers and my own apprehension. I had another epiphany, though. The tables are used in relatively small doses. For example, every single spell has its own casting table. That comes up to over 220 pages, just for the Wizard spells. There are 5 pages of critical hit tables just for characters. The thing that I realized is that very few of the tables are actually necessary at any given time. A Wizard character is only going to know a small handful of spells. A character is only going to need one critical hit table at a time, and most of the classes will only ever need one critical table. Once that realization had dawned on me, I was off to the races with DCC.

As I mentioned in a recent post, I printed out the reference sheets from People Them with Monsters. I finally printed them out, with a twist. I found some blue paper laying around and printed the cover on that. It gave  it a certain old school vibe of its own, printed in grayscale on a sheet of solid color. I also printed What to Roll, which I used for my back cover.

I also did a mod on this limited edition cover to use as a cover for my spell tables booklet. If I ever do run the game, especially on a regular basis, I'll have a copy of the Tables for the players, plus one for my quick reference. The spell tables will be mine. The players will learn the extents of their spells through trial-and-error.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Mongoose Legend

I was meandering around the net this morning and stumbled across some mention of Legend. It is Mongoose's open-source version of RuneQuest. Mongoose did not renew their license for RQ after RQ2, instead opting to do their own thing with it. It is really cool that they went open-source with it. The coolest thing, though, is that the core book is available for $1 at DriveThru RPG. I snapped that up when I first read about it. I even had it printed. Then I promptly forgot all about it. Until this morning.

In a nutshell, if you like RQ, you will likely enjoy Legend as well. Sure, there may be some points of friction, but it is still the same basic percentile system purring away under the hood. I'm no authority on RQ. It was the equivalent of an Epic Quest for me and my buddy John to cobble together enough hand-written notes and photocopied pages to play D&D. We weren't about to abandon all that hard-won loot for another system.

In later years I wanted to try RQ. A roommate I had at one time had the 2nd edition rules and we tried to make up characters. By the time he got to the part about me being able to join a guild and take out a student loan (which is exactly how his description hit me), I was glassy eyed. This was when my gaming circle was into AD&D and had been for years. We could go from "Hey, let's play D&D" to a finished party of 1st level wanna-be's in no time. So, that flirtation with RQ was short.

Then, Avalon Hill came out with RQ3. Little known secret: My gaming career started with Avalon Hill wargames. Tobruk was an early favorite, along with Tactics II and Blitzkrieg. Anyway, I liked the look of the blurb on the box, and I was an Avalon Hill fanboy. Unfortunately, my group was D&D or die, so RQ3 never really got any traction. I bought a lot of the supplements (because that's what I do), and I really liked the feel of the game. It seemed to me to be very clunky (based solely on reading), but I broke it out every now and then to see if my perceptions had changed. I thought Glorantha was really interesting, even though there were a few things that offended my sensibilities. I'm not sure if the things were "true" Glorantha, or part of Avalon Hill's take on it. Either way, by and large, I loved it as something to read and feel inspired by.

Which brings me back to Legend. As you may glean from this rambling monologue, I have wanted to like RuneQuest for a long time. So far I am happy with Legend. I haven't gotten very far into re-reading the pdf, but I like what I'm seeing. Plus, the pdf is produced in digest format, which I love. The cover (as seen at the top of this post) is very sublimated, which makes reading the game in public much more "stealthy". The core book is complete in and of itself. At least it is sold that way. It is well-supported, however, with several supplements (available in pdf, though not for $1, they are still reasonably priced). There is also a fairly active forum, located here.

For a slim buck, this is worth a look, especially if you're curious about RQ.